Victor Olofsson has scored four goals this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Victor Olofsson evolving in new role: ‘He’s become a better player’

PITTSBURGH – When you think of Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson scoring a goal, coach Don Granato said, you have a certain picture.

For much of the past five years, Olofsson has utilized his ultra-quick release and lethal shot, often from the circle area.

“You think of a certain spot on the ice where he opens up and it’s a one-timer,” Granato said following Wednesday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “It’s a shift slightly into the perimeter.”

That special ability helped Olofsson, 28, establish himself as one of the Sabres’ top offensive threats. It also earned him a reputation, fair or not, as a one-dimensional player.

He often did most of his damage on the power play, far away from the net. While he piled up goals, he could be a defensive liability and too easy to play against.

Despite scoring a career-high 28 goals in 2022-23, he sat out critical late-season games as a healthy scratch.

This season, Olofsson isn’t even scoring much. He has mustered just four goals in 31 games, including zero on the man advantage, entering tonight’s contest against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

The Swede has dropped down the lineup, often skating short minutes. He no longer plays on the power play and has been a healthy scratch eight times.

Not exactly what the Sabres want from a player in the second season of a two-year, $9.5 million contract.

So maybe erase that picture Granato painted of Olofsson unleashing the puck into the net.

In being cast in a more defensive role, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Olofsson has been forced to change his focus.

“Not having the minutes I’m used to, I got to adjust my game a little bit … sometimes taking a little bit more responsibility defensively,” he told the Times Herald. “… It’s been a little bit different but it’s great to learn new things, too.”

Granato believes Olofsson has evolved through the adversity, morphing into a more aggressive presence.

“He’s become a better player,” he said. “I believe he’s deliberately added to his game.”

In doing that, Olofsson has improved his rating from a dreadful minus-23 last season to a solid plus-2.

“It definitely makes my defensive game or aspect a little bit better, I would say,” he said of his new role. “I feel like I’ve been playing good defensively this year. Yeah, that’s been more my role. I feel like that could definitely help me in the long run.”

Granato said Olofsson has “really focused on getting pucks back quicker, getting to offense quicker, shutting the other team down quicker – areas that he could improve in his game and could add to his game that’ll help him through his career.”

His ability to get to the inside and take time and space away from opponents has helped him earn more ice time in critical situations.

“I’ve been confident using him more late in the game in D-zone situations that I would’ve last year because of it,” Granato said.

Olofsson’s defensive zone starts have increased 1 percent this season to a career-high 38.9 percent. Still, his ice time has dropped to 11 minutes, 59 seconds an outing, down from 14:21 last season.

Following a two-game absence, Olofsson returned for Thursday’s 6-1 road win over the Montreal Canadiens, skating at right wing in place of injured captain Kyle Okposo alongside center Peyton Krebs and Zemgus Girgensons. Olofsson registered one shot on goal and drew a hooking penalty at the net.

He understands getting frustrated won’t help him.

“I’ve been trying to tell myself just kind of take it a game at a time, even a shift at a time,” said Olofsson, who has a 10-game goal drought. “Just do what I can do and control what I can control. … So just try to stay as calm as possible.”

Winger Jeff Skinner recorded one goal and four points Thursday, giving him 16 points in his last six games in Montreal. How notable is that production?

Only Wayne Gretzky (17 points from 1985 to 1988) has registered more points in a six-game stretch against the Canadiens! Skinner’s 16 points are tied with Mario Lemieux.

Sabres prospect Jiri Kulich, 19, scored two goals Friday in Team Czechia’s 8-5 win over Finland that clinched the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship. His six goals and 12 points in six games both tied for the tournament lead.

Prospects Noah Ostlund, 19, and Anton Wahlberg, 18, both won a silver medal Friday as Team USA defeated Sweden 6-2. Ostlund finished with three goals and 10 points in seven games.

Wingers Jordan Greenway and Alex Tuch both missed Friday’s practice in Pittsburgh because they’re sick. They’re day to day, according to the Sabres.

The Sabres have won two straight games (Oct. 29 and Nov. 1) just once this season. Incredibly, they’re 1-10-4 following a victory.

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